Acton Institute Powerblog

Give socialism a try? Let’s not.

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Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man
“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man” – Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski played by Jeff Bridges. ‘Jeff Bridges speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California’ by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 3.0

Elizabeth Bruenig, columnist for the Washington Post, yesterday published an opinion piece entitled, ‘It’s time to give socialism a try’. The title is a bit misleading as the piece makes no positive case for socialism but rather chronicles her own and several others convictions that something in our society has gone terribly wrong. Bruenig then claims that the something that has been going badly wrong is capitalism,

Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual.

I can’t speak for others but I manage to get through most of my days with only fleeting moments of alienation. Last night I finished up an excellent book (Thoughtfully reviewed here) on the attributes of God that then kept me up the better part of the night in sustained contemplation, this morning I got up to go to work at the Acton Institute which, in the interest of public morality, seeks to promote a free and virtuous society, and this weekend I’ll be driving to a family reunion which has been an ongoing tradition for over twenty years. It’s hard to be an atomized individual stuffed into a house in the wilderness for the weekend with three generations of family.

Not sharing a personal experience of alienation perhaps the best approach would be to turn to what free-market theorists themselves have to say (As I previously did in ‘Misreading capitalism’), if they indeed believe that the free-market, “turns every relationship into a calculable exchange.” Ross Emmett, Professor of Political Economy and Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy at Michigan State, has a fine paper ‘Economics Is Not All of Life’ which outlines that Richard Whately and Frank Knight did not.

But Bruenig has told us that, “Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits…”, and if that is true then we have nothing to learn from its theorists and proponents. But it is hard to judge if the statement is true because no argument is actually made for it.

Perhaps I’m overthinking this. It is, after all, published as an opinion and Bruenig is certainly entitled to hers. To say the consequences of actually existing socialism can be severe is an understatement and there is good evidence that economic freedom contributes to social progress (Including but not limited to the reduction of poverty and recognition of women’s rights). That seems to me an argument to give socialism a pass.

Dan Hugger Dan Hugger is Librarian and Research Associate at the Acton Institute.